Tampa Bay Devil Rays rightfielder Jose Cruz Jr. takes aim on a fastball in front of palm trees, fans and Fred McGriff at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. Islander Photo: Steve Huntington
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A-Rod hits first for new Murderer's Row - Braves prevail
Anna Maria Island baseball great Birdie Tebbetts loved baseball knowledge, whether it be scouting players, out-thinking his opponents, or even baseball trivia. So here's our Tebbetts Tidbit question for this week:
As I watch former Tampa Bay Devil Ray Esteban Yan pitch for his new team, the Detroit Tigers, many memories of seeing him pitch at Tropicana Field come to mind. Unfortunately, too many of them are of him "pouring gasoline on the fire." One unlikely highlight of Yan's career, however, occurred in his first major league at-bat in 2000 at Shea Stadium. What happened?
Worth the trip
Earlier last week, the perennial division winners of the National League East, the Atlanta Braves, were in Tampa to take on the American League champion New York Yankees.
A Yankee fan and friend of mine was down visiting from New Jersey, and his friend Andy Sheridan, an Anna Maria resident, had invested in season tickets for the Yankees spring training and, well, I got invited along. It became the perfect day to check out some of baseball's best.
Andy has been extremely busy lately installing floating docks made of strong plastic that your boat can drive right up and park on, and he was off the island down at Phillippi Creek at a job Tuesday morning. So we got a bit of a late start, especially considering the parking nightmare ahead at the new Legends Field in Tampa. But soon enough, we were sitting up the right field line, watching Yankee ace Mike Mussina pitching to the Braves. He gave up a run in the top of the first.
The highlight for the majority in attendance was undoubtedly in the home half of the second inning when, after Derek Jeter singled off the Braves starter John Thomson, Alex Rodriguez belted his first home run ever as a New York Yankee.
So the Yanks are up 2-1. But Mussina only goes two innings because it's his first start of the spring due to the death of his father-in-law. He otherwise would have been the starting pitcher in the first exhibition game, and the first game ever, at the Phillies' new Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater the previous Thursday.
Gabe White, former Cincinnati Red, relieved, and in his first and only inning of work, quickly gave it back and more. In succession, White surrendered a solo homer to Marcus Giles, a two-run shot to J.D. Drew and a grand-slam home run to catcher Johnny Estrada. The Braves were back on top 8-2, and the relatively few Atlanta fans in attendance were very glad they came.
My Yankee-rooting cohorts, however, were not amused. Final score: Braves 10, Yankees 4, and all agreed that it was another beautiful afternoon of March baseball on Florida's gulf coast.
Tebbetts Tidbit answer: A first-pitch home run. Esteban Yan, batting in an inter-league game against the Mets on June 4, 2000, hit a home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat in the majors. He became the 77th player (12th pitcher) to homer in his first at-bat and the 14th player (fifth pitcher) to do it on the first pitch. And now on this spring day in 2004, a sunny Sunday at "Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field," Yan was near perfect against his old mates. As the starting pitcher for Detroit, he retired nine of the 10 men he faced, yielding only a two-out single to Rocco Baldelli. The Rays later rallied to win 11-3.